Soupy Sales Was A Big Part Of My Childhood

That was the attraction. He really was putting on a show. And he was doing it live and virtually unscripted under the most rudimentary of conditions in a media just reaching puberty.

The Soupy Sales Show.jpgSoupy Sales died tonight. He was a comic genius–a term I do not throw around lightly. Though it’s unexpected for someone on the news to say this, he was a guiding force in what I do on-the-air.

I watched Soupy every afternoon on Channel 5. This caused constant conflict with my sister who had other viewing ideas in our one TV family¹.

Soupy’s show was done live from the Channel 5 studios at 205 East 67th Street.

I didn’t look that address up. Anyone around my age who grew up in New York City knows it. It was always said as “Two oh five” and it was the entry address for dozens… maybe hundreds of contests on Channel 5.

Soupy was on in the late afternoon and he was live. It was silly, sophomoric comedy performed with one off screen voice and a studio full of technicians whose laughter was part of the show. Soupy didn’t need a laughtrack. If something was funny all inhibitions were off.

Twenty some odd years ago I hosted the Easter Seal Telethon with Diane Smth. Pre-show we went to “Telethon School” in Las Vegas. As I was being brought around someone introduced me to the director.

“Geoff, this is Arthur Forrest,” he said.

I smiled.

“Artie Forrest?” I asked and smiled some more.

Artie Forrest was Soupy’s director and Soupy was always talking to him or about him on-the-air. Same thing with the make-up man, Carmen Gebbia and someone named Eddie Bezzares (sp?).

It’s forty five years ago, right? I remember the names. Indelible.

The show was live–an hour of shtick daily. But, of course, the rub was you couldn’t write an hour of shtick every day. Even if you could there was no budget on this show.

As awful as the material was it was treated like gold. The set-up for a one liner could take five or six minutes as Soupy went into comedic tangents and stage managers and cameramen giggled.

The show was for kids, but performed for and in front of adults. Much of what went on went on at two levels. Even as a kid I knew that. My job was to try and understand the stuff for adults. Who knows how successful I was (or wasn’t)?

There were a handful of characters Soupy dealt with all played by Frank Nastasi. He never appeared on camera. He was Pookie (a puppet), White Fang and Black Tooth (only a single clawed paw and furry arm was seen for either) and a zillion voices on the radio and telephone.

Often there would be a knock at the door. Soupy would walk over, open it and begin a conversation with whomever was on the other side. But, of course, we saw no one. The voice was Nastasi’s. The set-up to punchline had begun.

When he was in California Soupy threw pies with major celebs. In New York on this local kid’s show there were few guests and all the pies hit Soupy.

The scope of his job is more than I can fathom. He was on live every weekday and then, again, on Saturday with a more scripted and produced show. On Saturdays he even appeared in a pre-produced continuing detective serial as “Philo Kvetch.”

Soupy became hot nationally with a release of “The Mouse.”

Hey, do the mouse, yeah,

Hey, you can do it in your house yeah,

On the rug, or on the wall

If your folks get bugged do it in the hall

Do the Mouse yeah let’s do the mouse

Come-on do the mouse with me

It was not Soupy’s finest moment though he probably made a mint. He performed “The Mouse” on the Ed Sullivan Show! He hosted a live rock show at the New York Paramount.

Soupy never stopped working when he was delivering comedy. As he weaved along he’d spot openings to divert. That was the attraction. He really was putting on a show. And he was doing it live and virtually unscripted under the most rudimentary of conditions in a media just reaching puberty.

If you watch me on TV (thanks if you do) and you hear me talk to the director or one of the guys on he floor–that’s Soupy. If you hear me stop in the middle of a sentence and go off on a tangent, only to come back and finish my point–that’s Soupy too.

We never met. I wish we had. We spent a lot of time together.

¹ – How old school is that? One TV!

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

We just subscribed to Netflix. Helaine and I are not a huge DVD watching couple, but we thought this might be an interesting experiment. We’re on the plan where you get one movie at a time, with a new one as often as you send the old one back.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated was at the top of our queue and came yesterday. With me currently alone, the timing was right. This film is a documentary and Helaine’s not usually inclined to see docs.

I originally became aware of this film on my way home from October’s trip to Maine. While I drove, and Bob tried to sleep, I listened to director Kirby Dick being interviewed on NPR.

The premise of the movie is, the MPAA movie ratings (The G, PG, R and NC17) are arbitrarily assigned, in a system which benefits big studios and penalizes independents. Dick also concludes homosexual sex is much more harshly treated than similar heterosexual sex acts.

The movie was shot after Dick had already come to a conclusion. That’s not to say he was wrong. It just isn’t an evenhanded presentation. He’s looking to justify his conclusions, nothing more.

The board that assigns the ratings is secret. It’s rules are secret. Everything about the system is secret. And, this secrecy is portrayed as a smarmy kind of underhanded cabal.

The movie goes out of its way to unmask the people involved, using private detectives. I understand the point and method, but I felt these people had their privacy unfairly invaded. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive here, but I felt uncomfortable watching the detective work in progress.

After all, Kirby Dick’s problem is with the MPAA, not their employees.

A few quick notes before I end:

I found the interviews with directors, specifically John Waters&#185, Matt Stone and Kevin Smith, fascinating. Forget wanting to meet your favorite stars. The interesting people in Hollywood direct.

Also, in a Q&A session from the SXSW Film Festival that’s part of the “extras,” I felt there was gratuitous closeup B-roll of Harry Knowles, proprietor of Aint It Cool News, a movie fan site. Harry never asked a question, nor was he identified. Why shows him… and show him again?

Before the film was released, but after the Q&A, Harry wrote:

Kirby Dick’s film is genius. It completely reveals the hypocrisy of the system, and pulls back the curtain to reveal a sacred set of lies that the industry’s “wizard” had been operating behind.

Harry’s words would mean so much more if he were a totally dispassionate bystander. Did they really have to kiss up to him and cast doubt on his imparitality?

Netflix asks you to rate the movie you have just seen (so they can better recommend other films). I gave this doc 4 of 5 stars. If there was a 3.5, I would have given it that instead.

Glad I got it.

&#185 – Could he be any more weird… even if he tried?

My Friend Paul And The Twilight Zone

I was looking for something to read and so flipped through the Arts and Entertainment section of the Sunday Times. It didn’t take me long to come to an article about the new Twilight Zone DVDs – a project spearheaded by my friend Paul Brownstein.

I’ve written about Paul before, so I won’t labor you with repeated praise. However, the Times article was very flattering about all the parts of this DVD that Paul touched – interviews and commentary, re added original scenes, crisp remastered prints, and old long forgotten extras.

Here’s the article, or if you stumble upon this at some distant date, it’s also included after the ‘jump’ link.

I’ve been waiting for Paul to receive this kind of praise for years.

Continue reading “My Friend Paul And The Twilight Zone”

The Maltese Falcon

Earlier this week, as I passed by TCM, there was a promo on for classic Humphrey Bogart movies being shown this weekend. I set the DVR. One, Casablanca, I had seen before. The other I had not. Tonight I watched The Maltese Falcon.

I am 54. For 54 years I’ve heard about this movie – what a classic it is. I am so unhappy to have watched and felt it fell short – very short.

The Maltese Falcon is a detective thriller. It is a perfect example of film noir. From

The primary moods of classic film noir are melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt and paranoia. Heroes (or anti-heroes), corrupt characters and villains include down-and-out, hard-boiled detectives or private eyes, cops, gangsters, government agents, crooks, war veterans, petty criminals, and murderers. These protagonists are often morally-ambiguous low lifes from the dark and gloomy underworld of violent crime and corruption. Distinctively, they are cynical, tarnished, obsessive (sexual or otherwise), brooding, menacing, sinister, sardonic, disillusioned, frightened and insecure loners (usually men), struggling to survive and ultimately losing.

Black and white in this case is more than the film stock. The movie itself was shot to produce stark scenes with little gray. I was surprised to see at least a few jump cuts (film editing errors) in the action scenes. Even at the theater they would have been obvious.

The story itself is very complex and in some ways implausible. I’ll look past that. It’s the dialog, not the story, that upset me the most. It is stilted – and not just because the movie is over 60 years old. The words were trite.

Bogey is fine. He was better in Casablanca, the African Queen and a bunch of others. There’s less to like about Mary Astor and Elisha Cook Jr. Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are the best parts of the movie.

I am so used to seeing these two ‘done’ by impressionists that I forgot what they were really like. Both men put real life into over-the-top characters. Joel Cairo (Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Greenstreet) could have become comic strip characters had lesser actors played the roles.

About halfway in, I started looking for a way out. I fought the urge and watched until the end. It just wasn’t satisfying.

Back in the 60s, I used to listen to albums by the Firesign Theater, a comedy troupe. One of their albums featured an entire side called, “Nick Danger: Private Eye.” It wasn’t until tonight that I realized they were doing The Maltese Falcon!

I feel like a fool, having missed the joke for all these years.

There is one very memorable line, always associated with this movie. As Bogart is carrying the Falcon out of his office, a police detective asks what it is. “The stuff that dreams are made of.”

I wish I’d said that.